Much has been written about Rodolphe Duguay (1891–1973), but also so little. His daily thoughts, spanning across nine diaries that date from 1907 to 1927, have greatly contributed to our understanding of his aspirations. Duguay died in the early 1970s when Québec was experiencing tremendous change and the practice of painting, anchored in pictorial abstraction, no longer represented reality in ways that were familiar to him. This new world was light years away from his own life in rural Québec.
The MAJ is honoured to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of an artist whose career has been overlooked by History. In doing so, it hopes to reintroduce audiences to this painter and engraver who, after a seven-year stint in France as Québec’s first artist grant recipient, chose to return to his native Nicolet, away from the spotlight. On this occasion, sixteen of Duguay’s works from the MAJ collection will be exhibited, most of them for the first time.
For some, Duguay’s legacy is as a printmaker, notably for his innovative approach to representing light. Printmaking helped him earn a living. In the 1930s, he produced 155 works. But his preferred medium was painting and he excelled at it in his landscapes—for him, the ultimate genre. As indicators of rural life, his scenes of the natural world became more expressive over time, and he arranged them based on his inventive mise-en-scènes. A man of deep faith, Duguay viewed nature as one of life’s great mysteries.
Duguay’s works are quite intimate in size. He typically shunned larger formats and commissions for religious murals, and did not particularly enjoy portrait painting. Nevertheless, two works from the MAJ collection on view here prominently feature human figures, including an anatomical study from his time at the Académie Julian in Paris.
One recurring character in his oeuvre is the sky. It plays a dominant role as an enveloping, and sometimes hostile, element. Individuals and animals are often portrayed with bowed heads, either in sadness or in submission before such immensity. Duguay’s highly expressive landscapes remind us that we are mere particles in an otherwise vast universe. In today’s era of climate change, the emphasis on nature, simplicity, and daily life far from the city takes on new meaning. It is what we often want but somehow never quite achieve: taking time to notice the changing seasons, for the good of the Earth.
A painter, printmaker, and illustrator best known for his landscapes, Rodolphe Duguay forged his career far from the large, urban centres, unlike most of his contemporaries. The first and only student of Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, he developed a practice that drew from both tradition and modernity, but was eclipsed by the arrival of pictorial modernism in Québec in the late 1940s. His studio, built on his family’s land in Nicolet after his return from Europe, was modeled on the one he occupied in Paris and is now a local heritage site dedicated to showcasing his work. The Maison et atelier Rodolphe-Duguay offers visitors a fascinating look at the artist’s life and career, and the history of Québec art at beginning of the twentieth century.
This peek at the MAJ collection is presented as part of the 50th anniversary of the passing of Rodolphe Duguay, organized by the Maison et atelier Rodolphe-Duguay.
Images in the banner:
Rodolphe Duguay, L’enfant et la fortune, n.d., Oil on panel. Musée d’art de Joliette Collection. A.2017.011. Photo: Romain Guilbault
Rodolphe Duguay, Portrait académique d’un homme, Sans titre and Sans titre. Musée d’art de Joliette Collection. Photo: Romain Guilbault